Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Scootsa1000”

Scootsa1000′s #CBR4 Reviews 34-37: Along for the Ride/Dreamland/Lock and Key/Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Last year, during the CBR3, I discovered the “Sloppy Firsts” series by Megan McCafferty.  I inhaled the five books in a matter of days.  While not great literature, there was something about the books that really appealed to me.  The main character was real and likable, but not too likable.  She wasn’t perfect, and while I disagreed with many of the decisions that she made over the course of the series, they seemed like things that real, human beings — and not just fictional creations — might do.  And so it is with Sarah Dessen.

Over the past week, I devoured Lock and Key, Along for the Ride, Just Listen, and Dreamland.  And I guess there are plenty more of Dessen’s books for me to choose from, but my library is closed for the rest of the week to be painted.  Argh.

Sarah Dessen writes about high school girls who sometimes have grown-up problems.  Abandonment, abuse, drugs, eating disorders, divorce, parental responsibility, runaways, and depression are just a few of the situations that these girls found themselves in between the pages of these four books.  Fun, right?

But the thing about Dessen’s writing, is that I enjoyed reading about these characters and these terrible problems, because I knew that in the end, while everything isn’t completely wrapped up with a nice red bow, that things are better than when the book started, and thats all that matters.

The heroines of these books are all similar: smart and attractive, with some dysfunction at home.  Communication (or lack thereof) between family members is definitely an underlying theme.  These girls are all afraid to let down their guard and be honest with the world about what’s going on in their lives.  They don’t want to let down their friends, or their parents, or the exceptionally cute and troubled boy that befriends her when everything is falling apart.  But they work hard to face their fears and their problems, and in all cases, find themselves happier and stronger in the end.

One little bit that I enjoyed about these books is the way that they all seem to connect to one another indirectly.  They take place in the same towns (somewhere in the Carolinas, I’m guessing), go to the same high schools, and eat at the same place for burgers or coffee.  Dessen has created her own little universe, and in doing so makes me miss the beach terribly.

As mom to two daughters (still way too young for these books), I’ll keep these in mind for the teenage years, when communication problems might arise between us.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review 33: A Face in the Crowd by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan

Back in 2004, when the Red Sox finally won the World Series, Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan collaborated on a book called Faithful.  Told in alternating chapters, Faithful was basically like reading the diary of a fellow Red Sox fan, someone as manic about the game as you are.  The book was going to be published after that season regardless — it was simply an added bonus that the Red Sox actually pulled it together that year.  I loved that book so much.  Its the only King book that I have signed, and he was pretty happy to sign it when I met him last year.  But I don’t know much about Stewart O’Nan.  I know that he is also from New England and that he does not write about horror, but more about day-to-day life.  When I saw that they were releasing a “Kindle Single” a few weeks ago, of course I downloaded it ASAP and proceeded to read it while on the treadmill on day.

A Face in the Crowd is about a guy named Dean, a widow living in Florida, who bides his time watching baseball on TV and thinking about his late wife and the son that he has grown distant from.

One night, while watching the Rays play the Mariners, Dean sees someone sitting behind home plate that he recognizes — his old dentist, who he hadn’t seen in over 50 years.  Dean starts to wonder: is his mind playing tricks on him?  Is that just a guy who LOOKS like his dentist?  Or is there someone sitting behind home plate who has been dead for years, who is waving right at Dean on TV?

Dean (understandably) freaks out a bit, and decides to “self medicate” in order to get some sleep.  And he seems OK, until the next night, when he sees another dead face from his past sitting right behind home plate.  Over the next few nights, Dean attempts to solve this little mystery, and in doing so he learns exactly why he is living out his last years alone in Florida, and why he and his son don’t get along.

The story isn’t the most original, but I love the easy banter that King and O’Nan have established.  Its close to impossible to tell which writer came up with which part (unlike his partnership with Peter Straub, where it was usually pretty clear who was writing what).  And their love of baseball is evident, which makes me enjoy it even more.

All in all, a nice way to spend an hour or so.  Especially if you like baseball or ghost stories.

 You can read more reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review 32: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I have a huge stack of books that I’ve finished reading (actually, I might have completed my Cannonball, hmmm…) but I just need to sit down and write the reviews.  Well, today school started, and I find myself home with only one kid instead of three, so I might as well take advantage of the relative peace and quiet.  My favorite book in the pile was The Age of Miracles.

The Age of Miracles is the story of Julia, a pre-teen middle schooler with a normal life: a crush on a rebel boy who doesn’t know she exists, a best friend who dumps her for no reason, worries about being like other kids, etc.  But Julia is also the narrator of a very abnormal story — at the start of the book, the world learns that the Earth’s rotation is slowing down.

At first, this only adds a little bit of time every day, but soon, days and nights are lasting weeks.  The world becomes divided between those that continue to live on the 24 hour clock (as mandated by the government), and those who live by the sun and moon (which is considered a criminal offense).  Julia describes how she has to go to the bus stop in what seems like the middle of the night, and how hard it is to fall asleep when the sun is shining outside.  She talks about how neighbors have turned against neighbors in an instant, and how her parents have grown apart.  She loses some friends, but makes others that she never imagined possible.  And she deals with a lot of tragedy for someone so young:  she quickly learns more about illness and death than most kids her age.

We never learn much about what is happening to the world, or why, but the small changes that come about every day are dropped into the narration casually, which sometimes has a huge impact (for example, when she eats a grape, and then mentions as an aside that it was the last grape she ever tasted.  Same with pineapple).  It was the little things that really stuck with me, as opposed to the slow-going apocalypse.

I loved having Julia as the narrator of the story and seeing how while everything in the world is changing, some things — like growing up — always stay the same.  Over the past few years, I’ve read a bunch of “dystopian” and apocalypse stories, many with teen narrators, and this is my favorite since Life As We Knew It.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Bunnybean’s #CBR4 Review #20: Martha Speaks White House Dog by Jamie White

There’s a show we sometimes watch on PBS called Martha Speaks, about a dog named Martha who can talk.  One time, Martha’s owner Helen fed her a can of alphabet soup, and instead of traveling to her stomach, all 26 letters in the soup travelled to Martha’s brain.  Last Tuesday, we went to the Museum of American History, and in the gift shop, my mom got me this Martha Speaks book.

Martha sees on TV that the President is looking for a new dog. She wants to be the White House dog, but doesn’t want to live away from her family and move to Washington DC.  But, she knows the perfect dog to do it — Smudge, a little white dog with a dark black smudge on his face.  Martha calls the White House to tell them about Smudge.  Before long, all the dogs in Wagstaff City are asking Martha to help them get picked to move to the White House, and Martha makes lots of phone calls for them.  Soon, all the dogs realize that Washington is really far away, and that they probably will not get picked.

One day, Martha gets a phone call from the President, who wants Martha to come and meet with him.  The President was really glad that Martha was a talking dog.  Chessie, the White House Dog, didn’t want anything to eat or to do anything.  So Martha asked Chessie what was the matter, and Chessie explained that her squeaky toy was stuck under the floor vent.  Once the President got it out, Chessie wanted to eat and play and have fun again.  The President was impressed that Martha could tell him what animals need and asked her to go around the country and ask animals what they wanted and needed: All of them wanted more food (except for those pesky cats!).  Martha became famous and was on TV!

Chessie was really sad that Martha couldn’t stay, but Martha told the President about Smudge.  The next thing she knew, Martha was watching Smudge get adopted by the President on TV, and they lived happily ever after.  Oh, and Martha’s family was kind of mad about their HUGE phone bill.

You can read more of Bunnybean’s reviews on her mom’s blog.

Bunnybean’s #CBR4 Review #19: Phineas and Ferb Daredevil Days by Molly McGuire

This summer, we (my brother Joemyjoe and I) discovered Phineas and Ferb on Netflix.  We watched all the episodes and the movie, I got a Ferb doll, and Joemyjoe even got some Perry the Platypus pajamas.  Its really funny. Then our grandma came to visit, and she brought us two Phineas and Ferb chapter books (one for me and one for him).  My book was Daredevil Days.

Phineas and Ferb are step-brothers who always build and invent things all summer long.  They live with their mom and dad and sister, Candace, as well as their pet platypus Perry, who is also a secret agent who always has to defeat the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

In part one of this book, Phineas’ grandparents come to visit.  Candace is out with her friend rollerskating in the park, and Phineas and Ferb bring the grandparents to go skating, too.  They find out that their grandma used to be a roller-derby queen a long time ago.  At the park, they run into Jeremy (Candace’s boyfriend) and his grandma, who used to be Phineas and Ferb’s grandma’s roller derby skating enemy.  When the two grandmas see each other, their old rivalry starts up again and they start yelling and fighting.

Phineas and Ferb build a huge roller derby rink in their yard, so that the two grandmas can have a race.  Both families get together on separate teams to race. Jeremy’s little sister Suzy(Candace’s mortal enemy!) switches Candace’s skates to try and make her lose, but it doesn’t work.  The two grandmas end up in a tie, and their rivalry keeps going.

Part two of the book is about Ferb’s grandfather, who used to be a motorcycle daredevil.  Phineas and Ferb build him a new motorcycle to jump over a gorge. They almost fall into the gorge, but luckily Phineas and Ferb designed the motorcycle to be able to fly.  Later, the motorcycle lands in the water, and Ferb takes off a wing (one wing already was off, because it got knocked off by a branch) so that it can surf.

I liked part one better, it was funnier and had more fun characters.

You can read more of Bunnybean’s reviews on her mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review #31: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The Cannonball Read has been a great resource for me for books I had never heard of, recommended by other readers whose opinions I’ve come to trust.  I’ve made library lists and Amazon wish lists of these books, and have slowly been making my way through them.  What I never considered doing, and what I’ve found has been A HUGE MISTAKE, was to make a list of books that I SHOULD NEVER READ because these same readers — again, who I’ve come to trust — have written scathing reviews of.

Which brings me to A Discovery of Witches.  This book was Amazon’s $0.99 Kindle deal of the day a few months ago, right before we left on a month’s vacation.  And I had heard of it, and knew it was a huge bestseller, so I downloaded it and started to read it in June.

If only I had read the reviews of my fellow Cannonballers first.  If I had ever seen the usage of the term “Twilight for adults”, I think I probably could have avoided the horrible awfulness that was A Discovery of Witches.

Diana Bishop is a PhD of alchemical science who is working for a year at Oxford.  Oh, and she’s a witch, descended on both sides of her family from witches dating back to before Salem.  One day she accidentally calls up a mysterious manuscript for her research, one that has been missing for hundreds of years, and is coveted by witches, vampires, and demons all over the world.  She crosses paths with a tall, dark, brooding vampire named Matthew, and suddenly they find themselves being chased and hunted by the aforementioned witches, vampires, and demons, all of whom just have to get their hands on that manuscript.

Matthew, of course, is like an older Edward Cullen.  He’s so controlling over Diana, I almost saw it as abusive.  But he’s so handsome, and he has such nice sweaters, that Diana can’t help but fall for him immediately.  A few weeks after meeting, they are “married” (in the eyes of vampires, at least), and fleeing creatures from Europe to upstate New York, trying to get Diana to safety.  Yawn.

Other than the fact that I couldn’t find ONE SINGLE sympathetic character in this book (I think we were supposed to like her aunts, but really, I hated them), what this book needed more than anything was a good editor.  How many times do I need to read about tea, or how vampires love wine, or how Matthew had nice sweaters, or about their yoga workouts?  Seriously, this book could have been cut by at least 200 pages and still have told the necessary story.  As a former editor (never in fiction, but still), this annoyed me to no end.

I despised the Twilight books, and was one of the only anti-Twilight voices when my book club gathered to discuss them.  But this book seemed worse to me, because it was written for adults — clearly pandering to the Twilight Moms among us.  I’ve heard that this is the first book in a trilogy.  I promise I’ll never read the next two books, and will prefer the ending I’ve created in my mind — Diana and Matthew are lost in time forever.  The end.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Joemyjoe’s #CBR4 Review #5: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald Sobol

Encyclopedia Brown is a boy who’s real name is Leroy, but everyone calls him Encyclopedia because he knows everything about everything.  He is so smart that he solves mysteries, just like a detective.  His dad is the Chief of Police in their town, and Encyclopedia sometimes helps out on cases.

Some of the cases that he solves are: The case of the happy nephew, the case of the knife in the watermelon, and the case of the diamond necklace.

My favorite was the case of the knife in the watermelon.  Encyclopedia’s friend Corky stuck a knife into someone else’s watermelon, but swore that he didn’t do it.  Encyclopedia felt really bad that he had to prove that his friend did it.

There are lots of these books about Encyclopedia and his friends.  I hope I can read another.

You can read more of Joemyjoe’s reviews on his mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000′s #CBR4 Review #30: Just After Sunset by Stephen King

It is a well documented fact that I am a huge Stephen King fan.  I’ve read all of his books and short stories, and now his comics — some of them more than a few times.  I’ve seen him speak in person and enjoyed his talk show appearances.  I’ve read and enjoyed works by his sons, his daughter-in-law, and his neighbors.  And while I’ve enjoyed most of his writing, I have a soft spot for anything to do with the Dark Tower series as well as his short stories.

Just After Sunset is one of his more recent story collections, and it includes some shorter stories (Harvey’s Dream) along with some that could almost be considered novellas (N).  Topics include 9/11, domestic violence, nuclear war, the afterlife, and, just so you never forget this is Stephen King, demonic cats and a porta-potty prison.

This is my second reading of this collection (once in hardcover when it first came out), this time I slowly made my way through it at the pool and the beach, taking in one story at a time and then putting it aside for a few days.  Some of the stories were a quick, forgettable read, but a few really stuck with me this time:

Graduation Afternoon, the story of a girl from the “wrong side of the tracks” who spends the afternoon of her boyfriend’s high school graduation at his huge Connecticut estate when something unspeakable and unforgettable happens.

Stationary Bike, a tale of an out of shape guy approaching 40 who decides to take up exercising in order to improve his health and extend his life.  He creates an imaginary world through which to ride his stationary bike, and strange things begin to happen to him.

My favorite story (both times through the book) was N.  N is the amazing tale of a psychiatrist with a patient who may or may not be losing his mind, and may or may not have OCD, and it may or may not be contagious.  It deals with one of King’s favorite topics, other worlds that exist beyond our reality.  This has been visited by King again and again (The Mist, The Dark Tower, Rose Madder, etc.) and I never tire of it.

While I didn’t love all of the stories (I really didn’t enjoy A Very Tight Place), I enjoyed the work as a whole and look forward to King’s next collection.

 You can read more of my reviews here.

Bunnybean’s #CBR4 Review #18: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Hugo Cabret is a boy who dreams of fixing a broken automaton (sort of like a wind-up robot that almost looks like a person) that was his father’s before he died.  Hugo lives alone in a train station (where he takes care of the clock), and has to steal food from the cafe to survive.  He can also fix broken toys and make them work better than ever.  Hugo lives alone because he doesn’t have a mother or a father.  His father recently died in an explosion at the museum.

He steals toys from the toy booth at the train station, and the old man who runs the booth find out about Hugo.  He introduces Hugo to his god-daughter Isabelle, and they become friends.

Hugo is always on the run from the train station inspector, because all of the shop owners know that he is stealing from them.  In the end, the inspector finds Hugo, but he is rescued by the old man from the toy booth and his new friend Isabelle.

Later, Hugo goes to live with Isabelle and her godparents, and the old man helps him to fix the automaton.

I really liked the book, it had beautiful illustrations that told the story along with the words.
I also saw the movie, which I loved.  I liked the book and the movie equally.

You can read more of Bunnybean’s reviews on her mom’s blog.







Scootsa1000′s #CBR4 Review #29: 2030 by Albert Brooks

I am a big fan of reading books that might fall into a made-up genre called “reality satire”…books by authors like Christopher Buckley (Boomsday! and Thank You for Smoking) and Ben Elton (Popcorn and Dead Famous, and c’mon, he created BlackAdder and The Young Ones).  I enjoy a humorous take on some of the more screwed up topics of the day like obsession with celebrity, or more serious subjects like the economy.  And so I thought to myself, hey, Albert Brooks can be funny (honestly, I’m not an enormous fan.  But he gets a free pass from me for George Kennedy’s performance in Modern Romance.  And also for Out of Sight.  Love that).  And his twitter feed (@AlbertBrooks) is pretty amusing.  So I ordered it from the library and read it in a few hours.

2030 gives us a peek at a potential future, where cancer has been cured, and access to superior drugs and surgery are extending life well into the 100s.  However, America is dead broke, and health care is almost impossible to pay for (unless you are an “old” and have savings and social security).  The younger generation is fed up with paying for and taking care of an older generation that simply doesn’t seem to be dying.  And then a monster earthquake hits California — completely destroying Los Angeles, and leaving millions of Americans homeless, jobless, and miserable.

The President reaches out to China for a loan to help rebuilding LA, but China refuses, and has another plan for the rebirth of the greatest city in the USA.

The book jumps between 8 or 9 main plots and characters — some old and some young, some wealthy and some barely scraping by, some American and some Chinese.  And for the most part, Brooks does a nice job and bringing the characters to life and making their stories interesting and sometimes funny.  Brooks certainly isn’t re-inventing the wheel here, but for an actor/comedian, I thought it was pretty good.

PS — if you appreciate a certain type of British humor (BlackAdder, Stephen Fry, etc.), I recommend Ben Elton’s novels.  He does a great job skewering celebrity in a very tongue-in-cheek manner.  Here he is from one of my all-time favorite bits from the Young Ones…

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